Citizen science project to save echidnas

Researchers at the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences have developed an app to track Australia's echidna population.

The app, Echidna CSI (which stands for Citizen Science Initiative, not ‘Crime Scene Investigation’), enables people to record times, dates and places of echidna sightings. The information is automatically uploaded to the research data base.

Spring is when the typically elusive and solitary monotremes are out and about, seeking mates. The Braidwood region has a significant population of echidnas with sighting on roadsides and in paddocks quite common at the moment. The addition of the dry weather has meant that, like other wildlife species, echidnas have been coming closer to houses to find water.

The aim of the project is to determine whether the species is under threat and how, if deemed necessary, to approach conservation.

The researchers decided to take a citizen science approach because, due to the elusive nature of the animal, the time and resources needed to undertake a full-scale field study made it unviable. 

The app was developed by a University of Adelaide PhD student, Alan Stenhouse, using the Atlas of Living Australia’s (ALA) BioCollect as the back-end database and data management interface. The Echidna CSI app is then used to collect data for the research team, led by Professor Frank Grützner. By having access to uploaded data, the project team has saved time and costs.

Data uploaded from the field by members of the public flows straight into the Atlas of Living Australia where it is stored, analysed and re-used.

BioCollect helps the team to recruit members of the public (citizen scientists) to record echidna sightings and to mail samples of echidna scats (droppings) to the research team, by making the project publicly discoverable via the Australian citizen science project finder. This means large amounts of data can be collected across a huge area.

Researchers say there is a lot of information trapped in the molecules of scats. Hormones and DNA can be extrapolated which reveal whether the echidna is healthy, stressed or reproductively active. 

Undertaking such a broad scale project would be virtually impossible for a single team of researchers. There are the complications of working on private property, as well as the nature of echidnas, which the researchers describe as “cryptic”, meaning that if you go out specifically looking for one you won’t see one.

  • The app can be downloaded for either Apple or Android devices, or go to biocollect.ala.org.au and seach for Echidna CSI. 
The nature of echidnas, which researchers describe as “cryptic”, means you often won't see one if you go out specifically looking for one. Photo file

The nature of echidnas, which researchers describe as “cryptic”, means you often won't see one if you go out specifically looking for one. Photo file